Rallies, speeches, and hearings at the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere have signaled a new stage in the emotion-filled debate in America over President Bush's drive to change the U.S. Social Security system.
|Opponents of President Bush's plan to change US pension system rally in Washington, DC|
A rally by opponents of the president's Social Security proposals came amid new public opinion polls showing he has a long way to go in persuading Americans.
According to one poll, 45 percent of those surveyed support creating individual private retirement accounts by diverting a portion of Social Security taxes.
Some of that opposition was evident in a rally that brought virtually all Democratic members of the House and Senate to a park in front of the Capitol.
Senator Richard Durbin is a key Democratic critic.
DURBIN: "Do you want to turn your retirement security over to Wall Street? Do you want to give up guaranteed benefits for risky privatization? Do you want to saddle [burden] your children and mine with $5 trillion of debt? Well I don't know if the President heard it but we heard it on this stage!"
A few steps away, Republican House members took aim at what they called Democrat demagoguery on the Social Security issue. Clay Shaw is a Florida Republican.
SHAW: "[Democrats] are interested only when the [television] cameras are there and they can trash Republicans for wanting to do something, instead of joining forces with us. We have held our hands out to them time and time again and they cut them off [when we] held out our hands to them to find a solution for Social Security."
Back at the rally, Congressman Steny Hoyer, number two House Democrat, had this message for the president and Republicans.
"If the president of the United States, in his efforts to privatize Social Security, thought we were going to be sleeping, he was sadly mistaken," said Mr. Hoyer.
Critics say the changes in Social Security being pushed by the president will worsen budget deficits, sharply increase the national debt, and leave millions of Americans more vulnerable in their retirement years.
Democratic lawmakers were joined by a coalition of groups representing retirees, women, and labor.
Among them, George Kourpias, head of the Alliance for Retired Americans, and Kim Gandy, head of the National Organization for Women.
KOURPIAS: "If George Bush and his allies succeed in replacing Social Security with private accounts, it will be necessary to make massive cuts in monthly benefits for everybody."
GANDY: "It is a foolish gamble, and women are not buying it."
Democrats are making use of their own weapon. He is none other than James Roosevelt, the grandson of the late President Franklin Roosevelt who presided over the birth of Social Security.
"We have made huge progress in letting people know they can count on a secure retirement, they can count on disability coverage if they are injured,” he said. “And their children and their survivors can count on coverage if they die prematurely. That is what this fight is about."
Republicans are using a new slogan in their fight for Social Security changes. They are calling Democrats the “Party of No,” part of a strategy to paint Democrats as obstructionists.
Paul Ryan is a Republican from the state of Wisconsin.
RYAN: "Our constituents did not send us to Congress just to come and criticize. Our constituents sent us to Congress to come and propose solutions to the biggest challenges facing our country. That is Social Security reform. So it is very irresponsible to come to Congress and not even participate in the debate on how to save Social Security. That is what we're getting from the other side right now, that is what we're getting from the Democrats."
President Bush has not sent a specific social security reform bill to Congress, saying he hopes lawmakers will work together on responsible bipartisan legislation.
Republicans controlling the House and Senate want to give President Bush's Social Security reform proposals legislative life no later than June or July.
A key step took place Tuesday with the first hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, whose chairman Republican Senator Charles Grassley has been sharply critical of what he calls a do nothing approach, and who is expected to write the first major version of Social Security legislation.